by Deanne Haines
“I got the gold!” blurted my 7-year-old after finishing his broccoli before anyone else at the table. “I got the silver!” said my 5-year-old. Both boys then encouraged my 2-year-old daughter to hurry up and finish her vegetables before Mommy and Daddy so she could win the bronze medal.
This ritual takes place most nights at my house, ever since our children watched the 2010 Winter Olympics on TV. While we don’t give out any medals in our family, my young children like the distinction of being called the winner. Personally, I like the fact that they are excited to eat their vegetables.
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games begin on July 27 and run through August 12 in London, England. Besides being family-friendly television – and inspiration for a healthy dinnertime game – the Olympics can provide excitement, education and entertainment for the whole family.
There’s no need to just sit on the couch watching the Olympic events, however. Embrace the Olympic spirit and join in the fun. Here are some ways to get started.
More than 10,000 athletes, hailing from 205 countries, will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Expand your child’s (and your own) knowledge of the world by locating the countries on a world map together. It can be eye opening for a child to realize just how many countries there are in the world, each with its own history, people and culture. You will probably want the Internet nearby so you and your children can look up and learn about little-known countries such as Tuvalu, Comoros and Lesotho.
Add to your child’s Olympic experience by exploring different nations’ cuisines. Choose a variety of ethnic meals to prepare. You could try your hand at afelia, pork marinated with coriander, which is a traditional food athletes from Cyprus might eat. Experiment with Vietnamese noodle soup, called pho. Or if your family prefers something sweet, try baking paw paw tarts, little papaya pies that are a favorite in Liberia.
Pride of citizenship is evident when witnessing the Olympic athletes sporting their country’s colors and uniforms, waving their flags and singing their national anthems. Watching the Olympics with your child is a good time to explain the importance of citizenship and to teach them the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The 2012 Summer Olympics features 26 sports, which break down into 39 disciplines. Watching the various Olympic events on TV can introduce children to a variety of unique sports.
Your child may be surprised to find out that canoeing, judo and handball are included in the Olympics. Water polo is a thrilling sport to watch. In this fast action event, each team is given only 30 seconds to score before the ball is given to the opposing team.
If your child is not interested in basketball, soccer or other mainstream sports, watching the Olympics is a great way to learn that there are myriad other sports one can pursue. Your child may develop an interest in rowing, fencing or synchronized swimming.
As always, there will be some competitors who overcame major obstacles to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Before watching the events, read about some of the Olympians and how they got to where they are today. South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius is just one top athlete who faced many setbacks in his life. Born without a fibula in either leg, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knees when he was a baby. Called the Blade Runner, he runs on two prostheses, which look like blades.
Before you tune in to see Team USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross run the 400 meter race, inform your child that Richards-Ross suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called Behcet’s disease. She experiences severe mouth ulcers and lesions, fatigue and joint pain. Still, she won gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
These two Olympians didn’t let adversity overcome their passion to do what they love. Instead, they powered through and never gave up.
Pistorius and Richards-Ross aren’t the only Olympians to exhibit the willpower, resolve and fortitude to excel. To get to the elite level, all Olympians must work hard and be focused and determined. This is true for any athlete who wants to succeed.
Olympians maintain rigorous training schedules. If you get the chance, visit an Olympic training facility. Take a tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at how these dedicated athletes train.
The Olympics can encourage children to eat healthier. Since athletes need to be healthy to be good at what they do, teach your kids to think like an Olympian when choosing what foods and beverages to consume.
Watching the Olympic team sports on TV, such as volleyball, rowing and relay races, can emphasize how everyone needs to work together in order to win. Teamwork is evident in the Olympics and should be stressed among all children – whether in sports or other areas of life.
Remind your child there are only three medals given to the many participants in each sport. Most Olympic athletes end up in the middle of the pack. Teach your child that not everyone can be the best, while stressing it’s an accomplishment when athletes beat their own personal record.
Encourage and inspire kids to get active by staging your own mini-Olympics in the back yard. Activities can include anything from obstacle courses and running races to tumbling and badminton.
Rebecca Zellmer, a preschool teacher, has fun helping her 4-year-old students create their own Olympic Games. “I divide the children into groups representing different countries. They participate in events and receive medals. We listen to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and learn about the different events and equipment needed.” Zellmer even helps them make their own Olympic “torches” out of empty toilet paper tubes and tissue paper.
Watching the Olympics with your child can be a family-bonding experience, but don’t just sit on the sidelines – take part in the fun. Prepare to learn a thing or two as you and your child actively uncover fun facts, healthy habits and valuable life lessons.
by Helen Newling Lawson
Is the hoopla surrounding the 2012 Summer Olympic Games inspiring your family to get moving or try a new sport? Maybe Olympic “fever” is stirring a little healthy competition into your family fun time. You’re in luck: Atlanta families have a unique opportunity to strive for their personal best in the actual venues used when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympic Games. Let’s take a look at some of the former Olympic venues where families can have active fun nowadays.
Centennial Olympic Park was the central venue for 1996 visitors and spectators to congregate and enjoy the spectacle of the Olympic Games. Today, the 21-acre park is a family-friendly hotspot in the center of downtown Atlanta, surrounded by popular attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, CNN Center, World of Coca-Cola, Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta, Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Dome and Philips Arena. With its vast lawn, large playground, and splash-friendly Fountain of Rings, it’s a great spot to get some outside play in an urban setting. Kiosks at the Visitor Center provide overviews of the park’s history and role in the 1996 Olympic Games.
Centennial Park also sponsors free “Fourth Saturday Family Fun Days” on the fourth Saturday of each month, noon-4 p.m., through September. Each event is built around a theme and promises “interactive, entertaining and educational activities for children,” including family-friendly performances, hands-on workshops, educational programs, crafts, contests, prizes and more.
In the cooler weather, look forward to the outdoor ice skating rink, from November to January, in Centennial Olympic Park (visit the website for exact dates and hours of operation). Costs for the 2011-12 season were $7 per person for 90 minutes of skate time, with skate rentals available for an additional $2.
265 Park Ave. West NW, Atlanta
Georgia International Horse Park was the venue for all ’96 equestrian events, the first-ever Olympic mountain biking competition and the final two events of the modern pentathlon. Today, more than 15 miles of horse trails are open to the public, assuming you have your own horse. Otherwise, saddle up your mountain bike and challenge your family members to take on all or part of eight miles of trails over 1,032 feet of elevation change.
If a leisurely stroll is more your pace, commune with nature in the five-acre arboretum or visit the Big Haynes Creek Nature Center (free of charge), featuring a wetlands observation deck, floating walkway and canoe launch. For more free family-friendly adventures, bring your GPS-enabled device and try to find one of the four geocaches, including one called “Olympic Rings.”
1996 Centennial Olympic Parkway, Conyers
Clarks Bridge Park offers all the features typical to parks surrounding Lake Lanier, including a beach with designated swim area, boat ramp and picnic facilities. However, this park is unique in offering canoe and kayak rentals through the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, the current residents of the ’96 Olympic rowing, canoeing and kayaking venue. The Olympic spirit remains strong here, thanks to the club’s mission to continue Olympic-quality canoeing and kayaking programs. Rentals are available Saturdays and Sundays from 1-6 p.m., now through September, for $15 per person per hour; the price includes access to the actual Olympic course. More information on the club’s other programs, including kids’ summer camps, adult classes and a Junior Olympics competition, is available on the website.
Clarks Bridge Park; hallcounty.org/parks
3105 Clarks Bridge Rd., Gainesville
Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club; lckc.org; 770-287-7888
Stone Mountain, already a popular Atlanta spot for hiking, history and festivals, was home to the Archery and Cycling competitions during the 1996 Games. Sorry, the circular Velodrome is no longer available to test your family’s gravity-defying cycling skills; both it and the archery venue were temporary structures intended to be dismantled after the event. Instead, grab some binoculars and stretch your legs — Stone Mountain Park’s Songbird Habitat now occupies the site on the backside of the mountain. There are two easy one-mile excursions into prime areas for spotting species such as the Eastern Bluebird, White-Breasted Nuthatch and Northern Cardinal.
Not up for hiking? Recreate one leg of the Olympic Torch’s journey with a ride on the Summit Skyride. You’ll enjoy an up-close look at the Confederate Memorial Carving on the mountain’s face and views of up to 60 miles.
1000 Robert E. Lee Dr., Stone Mountain
To host the Beach Volleyball competition in our land-locked metro area, a manmade lake, complete with sandy beach, was created 22 miles south of downtown Atlanta. Known as “Atlanta Beach” during the Olympics, “The Beach” is now a highlight of Clayton County International Park. The beach volleyball stadium constructed for the 1996 Olympic Games is still in place, and 11 Olympic-size beach volleyball courts are available, including tournament courts by reservation. The Beach offers all kinds of wet-and-wild fun, including an adventure kiddie pool, slides, water trampoline, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, beach pavilion rentals and a sun deck. Beach admission starts at $11 for adults and $9 for children, with additional charges for non-Clayton County residents and parking.
2300 Highway 138 SE, Jonesboro